“This trip was not to build homes or build objects,” said Nathan Summers, a student at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic High School (STA). “This trip had one objective —to build bonds and connections with the people of Sandy Lake, and we certainly met the objective of creating relationships and furthering our understanding of Indigenous values and practices.”
Nine students from seven schools in the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario (CDSBEO) took part in the sixth annual Sandy Lake Exposure Trip. The field trip to the Sandy Lake Cree Reserve, in northwestern Ontario, is part of the CDSBEO’s curriculum policy for First Nation, Métis and Inuit cultural study and appreciation, and arranged through a partnership with the Sandy Lake Board of Education.
CDSBEO students spend several days, in June, billeted at the Sandy Lake Reserve, where the only access is by boat or air. Students experience life in an isolated northern community and develop a greater appreciation for the Cree culture and traditions.
The group taking part in the June 2019 field trip reported on their experiences to the CDSBEO board during its November 5 session. They were immersed in all the activities taking place on the reserve during the annual Treaty Days celebration, which included observing the proper way to butcher a moose.
“With the moose carving, absolutely every part of it is used,” said Summers, “and what remains is put back in the ground where the animal was killed, and that area becomes sacred. Also, after it is killed, the body of the moose is placed in the direction in which it was travelling, so that its spirit may continue on the path it was headed.”
Charlotte Wickens, another STA student, noted that all students involved in the field trip felt welcomed during their stay at Sandy Lake. She also noted the difference between reserve life and life in other parts of Ontario.
“Unfortunately, the people of Sandy Lake don’t have privileges such as automatic heating and cooling, clean water, garbage removal, unlimited electricity, paved roads, health care, and unlimited and affordable food and supplies,” she said. “The community is one big family, they all work as a team, help each other and support one another. Our group was immediately welcomed and, during my time there, I never once felt unwelcome. I felt at ease, as though I was already part of the community, and people went out of their way to ensure that we felt appreciated.”